Swiss Bishop Remains Faithful to Traditional Teaching on Marriage in His Own Guidelines

Image: Werdenberg, Sankt Gallen, Switzerland

In the wake of an indisputably liberalizing Pastoral Letter on Marriage and the Family as published by the German Bishops two days ago, there comes now to us a more encouraging event from the neighboring country of Switzerland. One Swiss Bishop now publicly defends the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage.

Bishop Vitus Huonder of Chur, Grisons, issued yesterday, 2 February, a fairly short set of pastoral-doctrinal guidelines for the priests of his own diocese as his specific commentary on the post-synodal exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. After some introductory remarks concerning the papal document, Bishop Huonder himself stresses the importance of the marriage bond – which, he insists, is to be regarded as holy. Indeed, the bishop explains, the Church has a duty to “teach the holiness of the marriage bond.” Huonder further defines the concept of marriage by saying:

The bond of marriage itself is a gift of the love, of the wisdom, and of the mercy of God which gives the spouses Grace and aid. That is why the reference to the marriage bond has to take a prior and emphatic place in any path of accompaniment, discernment and integration.

With the holiness of the marriage bond in mind, the Swiss bishop forthrightly addresses the currently important question of the “remarried” divorcees and their possible access to the Sacraments. He declares that these couples may not decide for themselves as to whether they may receive Holy Communion; and he says that they may only do so if they are living – according to Familiaris Consortio 84 – as brother and sister. He specifically says, as follows:

The reception of Holy Communion on the side of civilly remarried divorcees may not be left up to the subjective decision. One has to be rooted in objective conditions (according to the Church’s rules concerning the reception of Holy Communion). With regard to the civilly remarried divorcees, the respect for the already existing marriage bond is decisive. If, during a conversation (in confession) someone requests absolution for a civilly remarried and divorced person, it has to be clear that this person is ready to accept the precepts of Familiaris Consortio 84 (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 12 November 1981). That is to say: should the two partners, for serious reasons, … not be able to follow the obligation to separate (see AL 298), they are obliged to live as brother and sister. This rule is still valid – already because the new Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia does not explicitly foresee any “new canonical rule” (see AL 300). The penitent will have to show the firm will to want to live with a respect for the marriage bond of the “first” marriage. [my emphasis]

As a helpful reference for further pertinent information, Bishop Huonder then names an Italian book soon to be published also in German by the publishing house Fe-Medienverlag; this book is co-authored by Professor Stephan Kampowski. This philosopher – who teaches at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Rome – has repeatedly expressed in public his polite criticism of the idea of weakening the Sacrament of Marriage and its indissolubility in the context of discussions about Amoris Laetitia. Kampowski also wrote the book The Gospel of The Family: Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper’s Proposal in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage, and Communion in the Church (Ignatius Press, 2014). Moreover, in the December 2016 issue (52/2016) of the Swiss journal Schweizerische Kirchen-Zeitung, Kampowski wrote, once again, an article about Amoris Laetitia in which he argues that, since marriage is in itself a public matter, those “remarried” divorcees may not receive Holy Communion since, “by their state in life, that is to say by continuously violating their own marriage vows,” they are objectively in opposition to what the Church teaches. Thus, he argues, the discussions about the internal state of sanctifying grace – or the lack of it – is not an initial, crucial aspect with regard to marriage, since marriage itself is always a public entity. Therefore, the weight of the subjective conscience has its own limits here. “The reception of Holy Communion is not a private matter,” explains the philosopher, and Kampowski then adds:

The contradiction between one’s state in life [i.e., adultery] and the Eucharist as the mystery of Christ’s absolute loyalty to His Church is objective. Simply to remove this contradiction without giving those [“remarried”] persons the perspective [sic] of a change of their own state in life would mean to cut any bond between life and liturgy, between ethos and Sacrament. This in turn would mean to put into question the sacramentality of marriage and, finally, even the sacramental structure of the Church.

Thus it seems that, by referencing in his new guidelines a book co-authored by Professor Kampowski, Bishop Huonder is quite aware of the current dangers that threaten the holiness of marriage. Bishop Huonder is thus to be commended for his courage and for his love of the truth which are both manifested in his own guidelines. Moreover, he does so amidst an atmosphere in Switzerland – as well as in the neighboring German-speaking countries of Germany and Austria – that is hostilely permeated by progressive ideas and attitudes. Therefore, he will most likely receive much criticism from his fellow countrymen for his new set of guidelines, just as he has had to endure it many a time in the recent past. May God grant him strength, once again.

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